It was he who found her. He, the expert at spotting the gaze of her eyes behind her glasses, for which he had looked so many times by the reflection of the light on them. From a distant point, which gave even more depth to the opaque and thick darkness of that night, extended in fear and discouragement, a fleeting double gleam cast shimmering glints by the reflection of that pale moon that only had enough glow for itself. He could not speak or shout or even move, he could do no more than raise his arm, trembling, in the direction where he had seen the two flashes and kept it that way until he realized the others, following the direction he had shown them, had also seen it and the Albatross was righting her course.
Tom leaped into the cabin and came back with a blanket that he left on the ground.
The waves began to peck at the vessel’s hull and gusts of wind started to come in. Clinging to the gunwale, the four of them were following the reflections that now, even with a heavy sea, were becoming more defined. Leonardus was the first to call her, cupping his hands, and with his vitality recovered he went down to the cabin deck and came back with a megaphone: “Andrea! Andrea!”
Tom cut down the speed as much as continuing to steer the vessel allowed him, until the voices began to overlap the vibration of the engine. When they were close, sailing off course by almost a quarter turn in order to keep the current from pushing them over her, he kept the gas at its lowest point, passed the rudder to Leonardus, hung the rope ladder over the gunwale, took off his sweater and pants and jumped into the water.
When Martín looked at the sea again, Tom, with Andrea on his back, was grabbing with one hand a rope tied to the sheet-winch that Leonardus was pulling while holding Andrea’s two hands with the other of his. The waves, already very high, would sometimes cover them, and Tom had difficulty keeping her on his back: pushed down by the pressure of her arms on both sides of his head, he barely managed to keep it out of the water so as to breathe. Twice he let go of the rope in an attempt to grab the ladder, and both times he missed. And once again, moved away by the current and blinded by the water, he came back to grab it again. He finally managed to hold on to the ladder, put one foot on the first rung and lifted himself up with much difficulty, because what he was carrying was but a dead weight with a hair-covered face, made into a tragic mask by the glasses that were tinted red by the light on the port side. The beating of the sea had increased and when Leonardus, who had flattened himself face down on the deck and was holding on to the bench with his feet, managed to grab her under her arms, Tom went up another rung and she with him. Martín lay down beside him and in a useless gesture stretched his arms out toward them. “Leave it! let me do it,” Leonardus managed to say, almost voiceless from the effort, “stop the rudder!”
Martín walked away and grabbed the rudder wheel with both hands, and without knowing what to do with it held it firm while he heard the banging of the rope ladder and the beating of the sea against the hull.
When they lifted her over the gunwale and left her on deck he was certain that she was dead. The transparent skin had become stuck to the bones and the paleness of the flesh had the consistency of glass and the color of chalk. Dripping, she was bearing the hours of anguish and suffering that were marked on her visage, and the change in the features of her face showed the gigantic effort to survive clinging to her, becoming her, deforming her, it being impossible to determine where her body began and where the traces of her agony, the way amphoras have incorporated in them shells and stones, hardened seaweed and crystallized jellyfish, and have amalgamated the color until they attain the pale and depressed tone that precedes the transition to non-being.
That’s her, he thought, that was her, and as he experienced the magical influx that joined him to that woman – now overcome by torment – and as death again became manifest with the inexorable repetition of the tides and the incontinence of springs, and remained steady in the face of pitfalls, vile acts, deceits and crimes, he understood that this had to be the epilogue of the plot of meanness and misery that they had hatched between them.
Tom left her on the ground and immediately turned her to one side, and with both hands pressed on her stomach until water came gushing out of her mouth, and almost instantaneously repeated the operation. Then he covered her with the blanket that he had left on deck, tucked her in and removed her glasses with the gentleness that dead people’s eyes are closed with, but the elastic band had become tangled in her hair and he had to cut it with the scissors that Chiqui had handed him; then her open eyes appeared, glassy with the viscosity of a mollusk, opaque like the eyes of fish just before they undergo the process of decomposition. Then he put her face up, knelt behind her head and placed one knee at each side of her face, bent down, put his mouth against hers and systematically blew air into her lungs.
The three remained standing as they waited and when at last Tom, out of breath and flushed, moved away from her, Andrea’s eyes were shut and she was breathing normally.
Martín, driven by a an irresistible and urgent desire to touch her again, took a step and began a movement of his hand, but Leonardus’s look dissuaded him.
They brought her inside the cabin and left her on the bunk. Tom tucked her in again, pushing the blanket in under her body, and added two more on top of it, as well as a sleeping bag.
“Shouldn’t her wet clothes be taken off?” asked Chiqui.
“No,” said Tom simply, sat down beside Andrea, put his hand under the blankets and took out hers. He took her by the wrist and did not let go. Chiqui sat down beside him.
“Do you want any coffee? Do you want any water? Should she drink anything?”
“No, thanks. We have to wait.”
Leonardus, who had removed the rope ladder and was steering the rudder, set a windward course for Kastellorizo.
Martín went up on deck. It was beginning to dawn and he could already distinguish the profile of the mountains on his left. The gusts of northeasterly wind had become stronger and were becoming more frequent, and now the >Albatross, at full speed, was moving shakily over the waves whose frequency and volume were increasing. As the grayish light was covering the sky, that same infinite space of the night acquired a human dimension, the distance between the horizon and the coast was reduced, and the cloudy sky came down until it became as one with the sea.
Standing in the bow, holding on to the same shroud that hours before had condemned Andrea, he observed a shred of her white dress that still flew, dripping, caught in the lifeline stanchion, and stayed in that position while waiting for the rain which did not take long to come down. The black sky was accumulating restless clouds, the sea roared in overlapping roars with the mobility that precedes the cataclysm, here and there a new eddy began or a burst of wind would let up, only to charge even more forcefully in isolated that gradually multiplied the power of the waves and rippled forcefully only to fall and then amplify again. Until sea, wind and sky merged into a single bolt of lightning that struck over the entire breadth of the firmament, and burst over the universe in a deafening thunderclap that broke across space.
The downpour that fell at that moment relieved the tension that had been accumulating in the atmosphere for many days. He did not move, the rain plummeted down on his body and his faith without easing the heat in his blood that was beating in his brows or the stupor or his wounded soul.
When he was thoroughly drenched he remembered the ending line of the last scene of the serial that he had finished a few days before going on the trip, “rain doesn’t get the dead wet.” And, for the first time in many hours, he smiled.
The storm was heavy and rain fell vertically down on the sea with so much strength that when it suddenly stopped it had flattened the crests of the waves and swept the foam from the breakers. On the surface there were left the deafening remains of deep currents that had moved with the winds and the clouds to other latitudes. Behind them the sun began to delineate the contours of the coast, shedding light on the reefs and gradually giving the water back the transparency that the opaqueness of the storm had taken away. They were sailing while pitching to the rhythm of the convulsion of the waters, and every so often, mixed with the odor of saltpeter, there came from the shore outpourings of wet soil, while birds chirped, scraping the air over the lost din of the storm. After a couple of hours the island became clearly detached from the mainland and took on center stage against the scenery, and as they rounded the cape in order to head for the harbor the cormorants appeared, standing on the rocks, clean and shiny, green and black, silent and fearless, their beaks raised to the sky, like great clay sculptures left out to dry.
At the end of the bay the Rhodes steamer was showing its disproportion in relation to the line of houses along the port, and what at first was confounded with the amalgam of colors dissolved in the light became more defined, and there appeared the flaking purple, almost carmine, paint, even more absurd than her dimensions, over the burnt ochre, copper and terracotta shades of the village behind her.
Two boats came to meet them: Pepone’s, with two more men on board, and an old fishing-type military boat that had been stranded for years in the old dock, steered by one of the two soldiers that two days before had accompanied the priest; the other, the corporal – the chief of the detachment, as Pepone had called him – shouted at them through a megaphone. One boat took its place to port and the other to starboard alongside the Albatross, and they escorted her to the pier, where Tom tied up with the help of several volunteers who were ready to grab the rope that he threw out from the stern. He completed the maneuver by himself because the others had not even shown up on deck. Leonardus, through the porthole of his bathroom, looked at the crowd that had bunched together under the couple’s balcony and the men sitting in the shade of the mulberry trees on the square and the previously unseen children playing in the street, while the two boats were veering around each other, waiting for the landing to be completed. And when Tom cut the engine they tied up in turn between the Albatross and Giorgios’ café. The human hedge became denser. No one could have imagine that the island had so many inhabitants, and not even when the Rhodes steamer had arrived the previous day had so many people been seen together.
As he disembarked, the corporal gave orders to the soldiers and disappeared. One of them boarded the Albatross, opening the way for two men who were carrying a handbarrow.
“Kalimera kirie,” he said to Tom.
“Good morning, sir,” replied the latter.
The other remained on the pier and, assuming a certain degree of importance, played with his truncheon and dispersed the crowd that had formed a compact ring under the balcony.
Tom helped place Andrea, whose eyes were still closed and who was now wearing a caftan of Leonardus’s, in the bunk, and they took her, still covered with the same blankets, up to the handbarrow and they carried her up the stairway with some difficulty to the upper deck, they walked carefully across the gangplank and they made their way among the crowd to the hospital. Tom went with them.
The soldier then spoke to Leonardus and gave him a series of instructions in Greek, which he, his mien serious and hardly looking at him, transmitted to Martín as he was leaving his cabin.
“You’ll have to watch what you say to these people, there are things that I can’t do for you,” were the first words he addressed to him since he had forcefully entered his cabin at two in the morning. “They’ll take you the police station for the questioning, then they will start with us, but first they’ll allow you to see Andrea.” He stopped and looked at him perhaps to find out, or maybe to corroborate, what his attitude and his silence concealed, and added: “For now they’ll make you wait here until they get their orders. In an hour – at least – it will be possible to see Andrea, they will themselves take you to the hospital. That’s what the policeman said. Oh, and don’t forget your passport, you’ll need it,” He turned his back and without another word got into his cabin.
Martín had changed and shaved but his hair was still wet. He must be have been chilled by the rain because he did not take off his sweater, not even when the soldier made him go up on deck and to sit on the poolside bench under the sun, exposed to the stares of the crowd. Leonardus’s statement must have been forceful and explicit, he thought. From it that soldier, with his thick brows and his fisherman’s hands, must have deduced that I was the one who threw her overboard, and that’s what he’ll tell the corporal.
Before going up on deck he had taken his hands so forcefully that Leonardus himself had to tell him not to handcuff him – Martín, not looking anywhere, had obediently extended his wrists – because it was obvious that he would not try to run away, and even if he had tried, he had no way of escaping from the island. The soldier, not answering, kept the handcuffs on his belt but put the palm of his hand on Martín’s shoulder, as if he were taking possession of what was his, and with no expression on his face other than the deep conviction that with that hand he was guarding someone who had been confided to him, kept it there for over an hour. Martín did not move. He remained with his arms resting on his slightly parted knees, not lifting his head, not looking, and hardly hearing Chiqui’s contained sobs, which were coming through the door of her cabin, or the murmur of the island’s inhabitants, who looked at him with the same respect, surprise and emotion that they would have had if they had been made to watch a convict and his execution.
After half an hour or more Leonardus came out of his cabin without saying anything, passed in front of them and leaped on land, only to come back with Tom ten minutes later. From that time on, for over an hour now, he had hardly shown up on deck: he was wandering around the cabin deck, not knowing what to do, and went in and out of his cabin slamming the door. The lines of fear had disfigured his face, he had recovered his true age and had become an old man. Yes, he’s afraid, Martín said to himself, not afraid of Andrea’s death, or of the detachment chief, or of the investigation, or of what might happen to me in the next few hours. He’s afraid because the embassy will have to intervene and he can’t take care of the situation by himself. Perhaps it wasn’t fear, but with his soul stripped of the condition of the obliging man of power, the tireless lover and the perfect host, despotism and cruelty were now emerging in his voice and his look and in his search for a victim to turn them on to. Chiqui’s whimpering in the cabin only made him more furious. Or perhaps age, which is implacable, had accomplished what a lifetime on the edge of legality could not, precisely now that he believed to have attained a definitely respectable position, now that he was friends with the great men of the little worlds in which he moved, now that he – unlike then – had something to lose. Or perhaps he had known that undefinable fear that appears for an unknown reason when the borderline situations have already been left behind, when we have faced death and have understood how close ours is in the course of a time that doesn’t wait, and one’s whole life emerges, so confused and tangled, so flimsy and so rotten that with one pull of a string everything we have done and imagined comes apart. Martín felt himself enveloped by a deeply buried hatred towards him. Take it easy, Ures, he said to himself, sooner or later his time will come too: I’ve seen men loaded with riches, not knowing what to do with them in order to ease their dread of loneliness, men who were unfaithful from the cradle and who on the threshold of death are in turn cheated on by the only woman they loved, people who boasted of their health and collapsed of exhaustion, privileged minds who flaunted their intelligence and drooled over a children’s game, powerful tyrants who in turn were whipped by a wretched weakling.
The sun was high in the horizon but had lost the strength and authority of the previous days. The rain had cleaned the atmosphere of its mists and a light breeze rippled slightly the surface of the bay’s waters, making them crystalline. The pennant was fluttering, and at times the crashing of the boats, pushed by that gentle gust, pierced the morning. The village had a festive air that no one would have imagined when it was dozing under the weight of the sticky heat.
Around noon the corporal came to the boat, accompanied by another soldier who made way for him through the crowd that was bunched together on the pier, waiting for something to happen. He approached Martín’s guardian and whispered to him, in Greek, some words that barely produced any expression on his face, but he slightly strengthened the grip of his hand on his prisoner’s arm as if defending his ownership of him. Meanwhile the other kept himself somewhat apart and spoke with Tom, who had picked precisely that day to do a thorough cleaning of every corner or the deck and to shine up the turnbuckles, the portholes, the winches and the stanchions.
Martín did not lift his head when the soldier pushed him and made him get up. He did not even move it aside so as not to bump into the awning, which, on that side, was leaning down almost to the deck. It was then that Leonardus showed his head. Perhaps in contrast with his unshaven beard, his hair looked more white and his anxious expression had turned him into a mask of himself. Only the questioning eyes showed life; the rest of his face – defeated, more defeated than if he had been the killer or the victim – had taken on the quality of parchment. But when he saw the corporal his capacity for organization and command took on new life. He went up to him and spoke to him in Greek. The corporal shook his hand and answered him respectfully. They both smiled, as though each had recognized in the other the right person to talk to, and they sat down to talk and to drink some lemon juice that Tom brought them. The corporal gave the soldier a sign telling him to wait, and Martín, without turning around to see what was going on, also stopped. When after ten minutes they got up and shook hands several times, both men were smiling broadly and Leonardus’s voice had been transformed. Even his gestures had become self-assured; he gave a last slap on the corporal’s shoulder and accompanied him to the gangway. And when a concerted shout by two or three people came from the pier, he turned to Martín and said to him: “They’re calling you murderer, you see. They’re all against you.” Nonetheless there was no accusation in his voice, as there had been up to then in his look, and it could be said that he was making a show of a certain irony, as though in reality nothing had happened and it was only a matter of a fortuitous accident in which neither one of them had taken part, as if those characters in the village were protesting over trifles that did not need to be taken into account. “I will go in a while,” he added with no reserve, “now I’m going to rest, I’m bushed.” He went into his cabin and closed the door behind them.
The corporal spent a little more time with Tom, who was still shining up the shackles, and on a command from him the soldier pushed Martín gently but firmly to the gangway. They both walked over it and finally leaped to the pier, where the other soldier joined them. The crowd had divided in two and made a passageway, and from the balcony the couple, who on that day had given up their nap, observed the show with the superiority of the big shot who attends the opera in the royal box.
It’s Andrea’s testimony that they need, Martín thought. Whatever she’s oing to say. She’s the only one who can convict me. What can I do? It will always be my word against hers, which Leonardus will certainly support. I can’t deny anything, it’ll be useless for me to argue. What’s sensible is to fight for things until you realize that there’s nothing to be done, then you have to give up. Everything except dying in the process, everything except dying. In this way his thoughts came one after another, but they did not affect him, he could not have affirmed that what was happening had anything to do with him. He was watching the people’s show without curiosity, and with no shame whatsoever he followed the soldier obediently through the pier, the square and the market and its adjacent alleys, so different under the sun. He was not even bothered when he saw someone disengage herself from the group of people that followed him: the old woman in rags, estranged as always from what was happening around her but free, not – as Pepone had said – held, perhaps for life, in the police station in order to pay in one way or another for absurd death of the priest’s dog. He did not think about it now, nor did it surprise him to see her go down the street humming her monotone melody, nor could he have understood how frightened he was over that act, so innocent and trivial. He knew well where he was going, he knew what would happen to him and what consequences Andrea’s testimony would bring him, but he knew it with a rational kind of knowledge in which feelings hardly played a part. Perhaps it’s true that nature marshals its own survival mechanisms to prevent us from dragging to our death more of a burden than we can bear and that in the end will keep us from getting, at the right time and with the right amount of wear, to our inexorable and pointless end.
The hospital was in fact a rudimentary clinic in a small house in the second row of alleys behind the market. The only sign on the door was a large red cross and a red crescent painted on the wooden board over some Greek letters. The freshly whitewashed walls showed the adobe sticking out but were spotless. The inside smelled vaguely of disinfectant, the coolness of thick-walled buildings was felt, and the silence was denser. One of the soldiers made him sit on a bench in the entryway, also whitewashed and luminous, as if it were in a house on some other island or as if the island had changed place. And they sat down, one on each side of him, but they remained as alien to him as he was to them, to their language and to their threadbare uniforms.
Martín was prepared to wait. He had no hurry or worry whatsoever, he had a slight headache – probably from lack of sleep – and he felt more tired and weaker, but not more vulnerable. He had entrenched himself on the front line of a situation of which he had foreseen everything, except death, and he knew that he was damned. Nothing more could surprise him, nothing could make his situation worse. Sitting on the wooden bench next to two closed doors and a few meters from a rudimentary consulting room, he remained as quiet as he had been the whole night, though now he was paying attention only to the back-and-forth rhythm of his own thought. Perhaps this was why he did not recognize the woman who was coming down the hallway as the pony-tailed girl he had seen in the house with the vines. It must be the doctor who’s taking care of her, he thought as he saw, with a sideways glance, the stethoscope hanging from her neck. She approached him and looked at him with a smile. Her hair was covered with a kerchief tied at the nape and an open white coat.
“Are you the husband of Mrs. Andrea Corella?” she asked in English after reading the name on a piece of paper she held in her hand.
“Yes,” he answered and raised his eyes.
“Spanish?” she asked.
“Yes,” he repeated.
“The lady is fine, in a few hours she will be able to leave.” And when she noticed the presence of the soldiers she asked, “did anything happen?”
“Nothing,” he said and added nothing.
The woman tightened her eyelids to focus her look.
But he did not see her because he had again lowered his eyes. And even if he had looked at her he would not have seen her. There was no room in his mind for anything other than that he would go into that room and Andrea would explain to the corporal what had happened, a version that he would be unable to deny. And in consequence he would be charged with murder. He was not afraid, but he could pay attention to nothing else.
At that moment someone must have called the woman from the sickroom because she gave a sign of agreement and left somewhat reluctantly. Her steps rang on the tiles and she still turned her head before entering the room.
It must have been at least three o’clock when the corporal and Pepone came to the hospital. A very old doctor, leaning on the woman’s arm, came out to receive them. He informed them of Andrea’s condition and they immediately went into the room that was next to the bench.
They must have brought Pepone to act as interpreter, thought Martín.
One of the soldiers opened the door and let him in.
Andrea was sitting on a cot, her back to the window, a rectangle of light and sun framed by the somber penumbra of the room.
The corporal moved a chair next to the bed for Martín, while he stood at the foot with the doctor, the woman and Pepone, and the two soldiers a step farther back. Martín sat down but did not dare to look at her and fixed his sight on her fingernails – still purple – and on her swollen hands on the cloth that, like a sheet, covered her up to the waist. Nor could he know what her face was saying, nor whom she was looking at. He was expecting the accusation, or a question, a reaction, but Andrea was silent and so was the corporal. The silence in the whitewashed room, an apparently improvised bedroom, was complete: no noises came from the outside and no one moved in the room. At some moment or other someone would have to speak, someone would have to begin. Why was she saying nothing? Maybe she couldn’t, maybe she had not recovered the faculty of speech yet and still had her mind immersed in her agony. Perhaps she would never speak to him again.
He would not have wanted to look at her but he raised his eyes. With her head resting on a large pillow, the view against the light gave prominence to her big wide-open eyes that now, without glasses and surrounded by dark bags, gave him back a look that was languid and steely, like that of a consumptive. And with the calm and the condescension granted by the conviction of one’s own goodness, she took on that mien of disinterested virtue that she would never abandon again: she put one hand on his with unaccustomed strength and said to him in a barely audible voice:
“It’s all over, sweetheart.” She stopped in order to press his hand a little more, and added: “So much suffering over a simple dizzy spell, so much pain!” And she tried to sit up.
Pepone turned to the corporal and the doctor, and as if Andrea’s voice had been the sign they were waiting for, they all began to speak at once.
Martín saw her as she was now and as she had been, and in the fold of her violet gaze he contemplated those placid traits as they would be when eaten away by old age and when her eyelids would be covered by wrinkles and deep furrows would edge her lips and turn her mouth into a twitching line on her face. He saw himself in front of her through the same unerring x-ray, and the future that was in store for them once passion was gone, when all that would be left to join them would be the strength of her will, the way ivy clings to walls and tree trunks and vanishes from them long after they no longer exist.
It’s true, ivy covers the trunks of elms, it climbs on them along a line of spokes marked by tiny leaves, and in time it gets thicker until its profile is drawn in green against the sky. Its root runners get stronger and, like snakes, they wind around the trunk, which in time will be unable to breathe or grow or, in the end, live, beautiful, yes, handsome in its romantic figure of being for someone else, bedecked in summer and winter by shiny leaves, so beautiful that no gardener ever dares cut them. In time there will be no branch or twig that is not covered by ivy, and the little leaves of the tree that still dare to come out with the last drops of sap that come up from the root through the strangled trunk will turn dry long before autumn and not even the spring rain, which will fall only to give shine to the ivy, will be able to bring them back to life. So the tree languishes. But it doesn’t matter to the ivy whether the tree lives or dies, because all it needs is the support, or the structure, without which it would just collapse to the ground without ever reaching the heights. With it, on the other hand, it can compete, climb and achieve its own heights. Until the trunk, strangled by the ivy, will slowly give way and when, even dead, it can no longer stand up, in its fall it will bring down the ivy, which will perish or creep uselessly over the earth.
He leaned his head against the hand that continued to clutch his, and, amazed by his own inability to foresee his wife’s reaction and her words, the only ones that he had not thought about, he cried, huddled up to her, as in the times by the sea.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you had killed the dog, sweetheart?”
Martín sat up, incredulous, and immediately felt shame, as though all those present had been able to understand Andrea’s words. But no one had noticed them. The corporal had gone out, the doctor was pushing the soldiers and Pepone out of the room, and Martín, not even having enough time to find the words he was going to say, found himself in the doorway, his hand still holding Andrea’s hand which did not want to let go of his.
The woman and the doctor said good-bye to the corporal and to Martín. The doctor remained in the consulting room and the woman went on towards the end, and when Martín, still flanked by the soldiers, was about to leave the hospital, as he heard the steps going away from him, perhaps aware of a presence he had not noticed up to now, turned his head to look for her, she had already reached the end of the hallway, had entered the last room and had noiselessly closed the door behind her.
Already in the entrance to the police station, when Pepone – who was walking alongside one of the soldiers – told him that he was going to be tried for killing the priest’s dog, Martín thought that he had not understood him. At that moment Leonardus was coming out of the station, a replica of the hospital though dirtier and with the blue-white flag instead of the red cross and red crescent. He was taking his leave, smiling, from the corporal , who had arrived ahead of them, and from the priest, and he was slapping their backs as if they were old friends. Then he saw him, stopped for a moment, and made him a sign to tell him that everything had been taken care of. “I’m waiting for you on the boat,” he added and disappeared down the street.
Indeed, Martín was tried by the corporal, who was acting as judge, and admonished by the priest, and he was found guilty of killing the dog for no reason, and though he claimed that he had done it in self-defense, the verdict was not modified, as Pepone translated it, besides transmitting to him the entire speech, to which he undoubtedly added grandiloquent gestures, pauses and an elocution that the priest would never had matched. The evidence that was presented against him was limited to the wallet that was found at the place where the deeds had occurred and to an eyewitness whose name was silenced. And he was sentenced to pay a fine of five thousand drachmas, plus five hundred drachmas for the return of his wallet and one hundred for expenses. Or its equivalent in dollars.
He paid with the money that he had in his wallet, kissed the ring that the priest extended to him, shook the corporal’s hand, saluted the soldiers who had accompanied him, and turned towards the door, still unable to comprehend the turn that matters had taken and not knowing what to do next. He went out into the street and, accustomed as he was to the faint light inside the police station, he was blinded by the sun. It was true that he was free, it was absolutely true. He walked towards the pier, looking for his sunglasses in his pocket and not finding them. There was still a group of people waiting to see him but most had left and the square had recovered its calm. At that moment the siren of the Rhodes steamer thundered through the space. Four latecomers were running across the gangplank with their basket and a woman was shouting at the man who was looking at her from the gunwale, full of passengers.
He had not yet reached the age at which loneliness makes one dizzy. He could begin his life story over again from the point at which it had become twisted, he was young enough to start over, he had not even used up half of his energy and his talent was still intact.
The siren howled again. The engine was started. A sailor appeared over the gunwale and began to untie the rope that was holding up the gangplank, and a couple of cabin boys were picking up the coaming that was hanging from the stanchions like little balls. The breeze had given way to the north wind and it was beginning to get cool.
He could hop onto the gangplank at the very moment when it was being removed, when the ship was beginning her maneuver, and once he was in Rhodes he would choose his destiny. He had acquired experience and a name, he would go to New York, or to London where he had so many friends, far from Leonardus and from Andrea and from their little world of local successes, and he would leave behind this trip and the night of agony and the revolting encounter with his own life and with that other self, which would remain in the back of his consciousness like a bad dream. He could do it, he was sure that he could start over.
He approached the pier. He made sure that he had his passport in one pants pocket and in the other his wallet, with the credit cards, that the soldier had returned to him. He would not resort to the money he had in Spain. He would begin from the beginning. But he had to hop on, already. He had to do it, now.
A man on land loosened the mooring from the first post, then from the other, and threw them to the sailor who grabbed them on the fly from the deck and said something in Greek while he was still holding on to the gangplank rope, waiting for the order to let it go.
Yes, it would be difficult but he could do it. He was going to jump, there was no use now in making considerations about what he was leaving behind and what he wanted to accomplish. The first thing was to be on that ship, jump, that was what he was going to do and then everything would be easier, now, he could wait no longer.
When the sailor let go of the rope and the gangplank remained hanging on the side of the hull while the other man was raising it from the gunwale and was preparing to put up the railing, he thought, still not moving his feet from the ground, that he would have time if he really made up his mind to do it; after all the ship had not even moved a fathom from the jetty. But he remained motionless on the pier with his hand on his wallet, observing how the ship was getting farther away, and by the time he wanted to realize it the strident red color had grown faint and was barely more than a distant spot merged with the water. The north wind traced lines of foam that scurried across the bay like feathers, and the sun that came from behind was clean and powerful and turned its reflections into crystals. The spot came free of the promontory and drew away from the mosque to disappear behind it, retracing the route that had brought them to the island two days before; the air was so different from the one that had disabled the Albatross, and he himself was so different from the man who had observed the figure on the little square only to awaken lethargies of forgotten times,
The thirst that besets us in childhood, he thought, perhaps to look for comfort in his own cowardice and to learn to live with it, will remain whole until the end of life, whatever course we might have followed in order to quench it, whatever water we might have drunk along the way. And, kicking stones like a child, he walked slowly along the pier towards the Albatross.
They sailed at dawn the next day. Andrea had come back to the boat on the same handbarrow, feeling better but still pale and weak. They dined on deck, under the awning, on baked fish with potatoes and eggplant, feta cheese and blackberries that Giorgios had brought them from his café, and two or three bottles of retsina wine with which they recovered their initial serenity, to the point that, when before going to bed they still played at seeing who could make the most seaman’s knots, Tom no longer found any reason for letting Andrea win as he had decided at the beginning. They slept peacefully and neither Leonardus nor Chiqui nor Martín nor, of course, Andrea, got up at the time of sailing. The deserted town was so asleep at that time that when they passed the pontoon that was tied up to the mainland and that served as a storehouse, the seagulls on the garbage dump did not take flight, nor did any shadow move between the sacks and the boxes. Only when Tom took the boat to the water hose on the other side of the harbor and cut the engine while filling the almost-empty water tank did he hear, from behind the ruins that covered that hillside, a syncopated song that went up and down, as though tracing the topography of the place in the dawn.
The crossing was slower and more difficult than they had expected; they sailed into the wind, which grew in strength as the day advanced, and, though they got to Antalya in the dead of night, the taxi driver that Leonardus had called from the island was still waiting for them and turned out to be such an expert at driving at full speed along the intricate curves of the coast that he managed to drop them at the Marmaris airport in time for the morning plane to Istanbul. They missed neither the Barcelona nor the London connection. And when, around five in the afternoon, they each arrived at their destination, they realized that they had been delayed by only forty-eight hours from their original schedule.
That was a bewitched island, Martín was to think many times until everything that had happened there was forced into oblivion. He said it to himself, because no one ever again spoke of that trip or of what they had seen, discovered or unveiled. Not even when, years later, Martín returned to the island, already besieged by tourism, to make a new film, this time with his own screenplay and based on his version of the story, the fourth one produced by Leonardus since then and the seventh in Martín’s already established oeuvre. Perhaps Andrea and he himself wanted to convince themselves that those two days had been only a temporary setback, a distortion, the uncontrolled growth of some cells that had grown mad for no reason or apparent end, whose memory had vanished already as echoes slip away between the mountains to vanish into nothingness, for only in this way would it be granted to them to remain united until the end, their voices lost in the paralysis of the world’s pain.